Why should women postpone motherhood until their dream of being a parent becomes improbable? Even impossible.
Motherhood has new parameters and a wider range of choices once viewed as different, even unacceptable. Today, forty-one percent of babies are born to single women, up from five percent in 1960-many by choice. Those opting to be single parents are adult women, some never married; others divorced before having children. Having a baby as a single woman is well-reasoned choice for women whose biological clocks are ticking or who worry that they may soon be too old to adopt.
Psychotherapist Jane Mattes, author of Single Mothers by Choice: A Guidebook for Single Women Who Are Considering or Have Chosen Motherhood, says that seventy-five percent of single mothers responding to her survey conceive using a sperm donor, twenty-five percent adopt, and that has always been the case since she founded the national support group Single Mothers by Choice in 1981. There are local groups in Canadian and European cities and across the United States from New York and Atlanta to Los Angeles and Seattle.
Improved fertility procedures have extended the window of opportunity and women are taking advantage. Three women friends, Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand, in their late thirties decided it was time to have a baby. None was married, nor were there any suitable men in their current dating pools. One purchased eight vials of sperm which eventually got passed down to each of them, but remained unused as one by one they found partners and became pregnant. Their joint memoir, Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood, reveals the urgency of wanting to be pregnant, the complexity without a mate, and the lengths they went to.Not everyone is as lucky as Pamela Ferdinand and her friends.
"This isn't what I dreamed of," my friend I'll call Andrea told me. She is single and five months pregnant via sperm donor insemination which as she says, "thankfully 'took' the first time."
In spite of the substantial number of women who become mothers on their own, they are not universally understood or viewed in a positive light. Sixty-nine percent of people feel having and raising a child without a man to help raise that child is "a bad thing for society." Andrea joined Single Mothers by Choice and also takes childbirth and parenting classes, but has to explain her choice to most people-even to those teaching the courses. "There is an expectation that you have a partner or spouse who will show up at some point. I have to ask if I can bring a friend," says Andrea, who will be forty-years-old when her daughter is born.
Unlike pregnant, unmarried celebrities we see looking glamorous with their "baby bumps" and ample resources for fulltime nannies, Andrea realizes that being a single parent will not be easy as a working mother with a modest salary. "I have to line up child care and will be leaning on friends to help me figure out the trickier parts of parenting."
In the twenty-first century, women feel empowered, many with stable, satisfying jobs. Educated women like Andrea are sensible enough to know that being a parent isn't always enthralling and at times will be overwhelming. And still Andrea and many others who have made the same choice say, "It's the best decision I ever made."
Andrea is hoping to meet Mr. Right someday, but she's not waiting for him to have the child she has always wanted. I admire Andrea's determination and grit. You may not agree.
The new single parent-single child family raises questions: Does a woman need a man to help raise her child? As an independent woman, do you even want someone sharing the child-rearing decisions? Is it fair to bring a child into the world without a father? Would you advise a friend, relative, or your daughter to become a single mother by choice? Would you consider this option for yourself?
Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman